Brigid O’Reilly

My name is Brigid O’Reilly. I live in Mahon, Cork City. I have two kids, one aged two years and a seven month old. I’m a Traveller and proud to be one! This is my fifth year on the Primary Health Care Programme. I’m hoping to become a Community Health Care worker for my own people.


S: As I was explaining, I want to get all the little pieces of the jigsaw, and who marries in with who, and I’m not really sure how I’m going to go about doing this [laughs]. So you’re my experiment, because I haven’t really asked anybody this yet.


S: But you’re Reillys and Caseys on both sides, and it’s fairly tight marrying in there. Nearly all your brothers and sisters marry first cousins, they were either Reillys or Caseys or the children of Reillys or Caseys.

They all married first cousins, out from three of us.

S: Yeah. Has anybody in your family ever married anybody besides Reillys and Caseys? Apart from marrying rightout?

No. Just Reillys, Connorses –

S; Oh, sorry! There was one Connors there. And Donoghue.

And Donoghue. Their mothers would be still Caseys, you know what I mean?

S: Oh, really? So Maggy Reilly – Maggy Reilly is the mother of [XX?] Connors, so she was a Reilly, and then the Donoghue there, the mother was a Casey.

She was a Casey. She’d be my mother’s sister.

S: Yes, I have that there. So were any other people married in with Donoghues, that you know of?

Of my own family?

S: Let’s say – your mother’s sister Manie is married to a Donoghue but for all I know that Donoghue’s mother was a Casey or a Reilly as well. Do you know? Were they?

Her husband’s?

S: Yeah. Manie’s husband’s mother was a ..?

Couldn’t tell you that, now.

S: Right. And what about Maggy’s husband’s …?

He was a countryman.

S: He was a countryman?!

Yes. He was Connors.

S: Right. Maggy was married to a Connors, and what was the Connorses’ mother?

Her husband is Tom Connors, but Tom Connorses’ mother was Connors as well. She married a Connors, you know?

S: I just need to see the big pictures. There’s a lot more names in Travellers than four. You’ve only four here, right? Casey, Reilly, Connors and Donoghue. That’s it. Four. I’ve a list of 163. [laughs]


S: So there’s 159 that do not show up. 159! There is a lot that don’t show up, in your tree. Your family, from what I can see there, marries very, very tight. So here’s the thing – I’m not really sure how to ask the question. Why do Reillys marry Caseys, and Caseys marry Reillys?

Why? Because, uhm…

S: Why not marry McDonaghs?

Because, uhm – it wouldn’t be their breed of people.

S: Why? What’s different…?

It’s like, all those that married in here, they were all kind of reared up around together. They likeded one another. They loveded one another, and they got married, you know? Where I’d say that if they grew up with McDonaghs or, say, a different name, Sweeneys, if they were reared up with them, they could have get to know them. It’s just – they all stood in their own band, like, you know what I mean?

S: Yeah. And when you were growing up, did you mix with families that had different names than them?

Oh, God, I did, sure!

S: You did? So, what other families did you, like, meet up with…?

I met up with McDonaghs, I met up with Sweeneys, Dohertys, a load of other names. More Reillys, more Connorses –

S: Different Reillys again?

Wouldn’t be anything to myself, like, you know what I mean? A load of them, sure. I was often going out with a Connors crowd. I was often going out with McGinley. But then again, like, you’re only young, like, and you wouldn’t be –

S: How did your parents feel about your going out with them?

They didn’t know!

S: Ah! They didn’t know because…?

It was on the quiet.

S: And it was on the quiet because…? [silence] You knew they’d go mad.

They wouldn’t have to even be them families! They wouldn’t allow you to go out with a boy. Even if I was going with one of my own people, I’d have to hide it .

S: Okay. What age were you that time?

Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. A child, like.

S: Now I understand! What age were you when you married, then?

I got married at twenty-eight.

S: So between fourteen and twenty-eight you must have gone out with somebody.

I did!

S: And did your parents know?

No! I was married five months before my parents even found out!

S: (laughs) How did you keep it secret?

And I used to come home every night as well. But then, I married a coloured boy.

S: Yeah, you told me that, yeah. But how…?

How did I? Just, I knew I had to tell them, but, I still didn’t tell them. I wrote a letter and left it there, and just went, you know? (laughs). But they were grand! Took it very well, and –

S: So did you go off someplace to get married? Don’t tell me you had a registry wedding! Did you?

I went to a registry here in Cork City –

S: You must be the first Traveller in the history of the world to get a registry wedding!

Oh, there’s a load of them out there that got married in the registry offices.

S: For first marriages?


S: That’s very unusual!

But I’m not the first in my family to get married –

S: In a registry office?

In a registry office? Yeah, I am.

S: You’re obviously not the first in your family to get married! (laughs)

No. But I was the first in a registry office.

S: Well, that is unusual for anybody in Ireland. Especially for Travellers. And so they didn’t know. You kept it quiet.

I kept it quiet for five months!

S: And did they not kind of push you in the direction of somebody? Did they not…?

Match us up?

S: Well, yeah. In a quiet kind of way.

One thing about my family, like: they let you decide yourself who you want to marry. They’d never force you into anybody.

S: Well, there’s a difference between forcing and making hints.

Years ago, like it was all that, do you know, everybody was matching, whoever the father and mother wanted a boy and girl to marry, they’d marry, like, you know? I can’t say none of my family ever had any – you just marry who you want, if you love the man, you marry him, and if you don’t –

S: Isn’t it interesting that where people have so much choice, where they can choose whoever they want, they still marry in very, very tight?

Yeah. They still married her own again.

S: Yeah. It’s interesting, because in theory you could marry anybody. Only three of them did though, marry “out”, and you’re one of them. And you say you mixed, when you were growing up, you mixed with other families?

We mixed with the world of people!

S: Did you travel a lot when you were small?

Travelled all over the country!

S: You did.

Yeah. Mixed, met up, with other, different people. Cashes – loads of different people.

S: What parts of the country did you mostly travel?

We were around Dublin, we were in and Waterford and Kilkenny and Clonmel, Jesus, we were all over the place, when we were small.

S: Galway?


S: Did you go up as far as Donegal?


S: Kerry?

Kerry? No.

S: But you did meet up with other – did any of your brothers and sisters ever, like, do a line with somebody from a different family, and decide not to go ahead with it?

They probably did, but I’d never know it! You know what I mean? (laughs) Like my secrets is, they’d never know it! [both laugh]

S: And did your parents ever, like, say things about the other families? Did they ever say not to play with them kids, or?

Oh, no! I’ll tell you now, about my family. You could do what you want, you know what I mean? You could play with who you want to, they’d never stop you from playing with anybody or mixing with anybody, do you know? And never said, like, keep away from them, I don’t want you to mix in with them – none of that, like. The way they looked into it, you’re only children, you’re only innocent, you’re just playing, like. My family would be kind of worried, like, when we were older.

S: Yes.

You know, when you’re a big girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age, then they’d be kind of looking out for you, you know what I mean? But when you’re only young –

S: So when you got older, what would they say?

Even when we were older.

S: Say you were nice hardy girls of seventeen or eighteen, what would your parents be saying to them?

Well, they’d be kind of strict at that stage, then. You wouldn’t be allowed to go with men, or go out with a boy, like. And if you’re going to the shop, my eldest sister would go with you, or two or three would go together, you know? All stuff like that. And then if they heard, like, that some boy would be fancying you or something, like, they’d know.

S: Well, I suppose if you were moving around, you’d be going from camp to camp – was there ever a time where they would not go on to a camp, because of who was on it?


S: No. So they wouldn’t say, Oh, my God, the So and So’s are there…?

No, no. If they wanted to pull in to the camp they wouldn’t care who was in it.

S: Really.


S: So is there any families that your family is on bad terms with, the Reillys or the Caseys?


S: That’s nice!

Cos as far as I can remember, when I was little – and even now, like – is, we got on with everybody, you know what I mean? We had no problem with anyone. We just lived our life. We minded our business, and we just lived our life. Out from the children fighting, now, and that, you know? But then again, that’s –

S: That’s kids, alright!

But we had never no problems with anyone. I think my family reared us up right. I believe that they reared us right from wrong, you know? Very well. Cos you see some children there, and their mothers would be sending the children out to hit other kids! You know?

S: Yeah.

Or children come in crying. Who did that? Such and such a one did it. Well go out now, and do this and do that back to him! you know? Even when it comes to telling gossip, stories. Like, talking about another person. My mother would say, Get out that door and don’t be talking about anybody! We’d get a clip in the ear for coming in and carrying stories! I believe she reared us right, too.

S: Is this your first child, you’re expecting?


S: Wow! That’s why you’re thinking hard about what way to rear them! [laughs] And, come here to me – your dad’s mother was a country woman.


S: So was he different in any way from – did he get slagged for being a half country man, or anything like that?

You’re talking about years and years ago! It happened years ago! It was a new thing for Travelling People that time. Like, today it’s nothing, settled people and Travelling people mixing together is nothing. But that time – his mother had problems with her family. All her family stopped talking to her and all that.

S: Was that because she got married -?

Because she married a Travelling person, you know? Fair dues to her, she’s ninety three years old today! And she’s still with the Travelling People. My grandfather died, he died about four years ago. And she got her reasons, like, to go, to get up and leave, do you know what I mean?

S: To get up and leave from your grandfather?

Because he used to beat her up as well, like, years ago. But then years ago it was different to today again.

S: Years ago, women took it! (laughs) Now we don’t!

Took it! They’re not taking it today! They’re not taking it today, but we’ll say, years ago they’d no other choice but to take it. They could be pregnant with three or four more babies thrown down maybe in the tent or the wagon or whatever. No other choice but to look after them, feed them! Maybe go round the farms begging. Come home, and have to light the fire, cook the food and all that.

S: It was a hard life.

It was a hard life, years ago! It was a lot harder years ago than it is today. Everything is easy for people today.

S: In some ways, it is. In some ways it’s harder, too, I think.

No! I often seen my mother telling me stories of years ago. And I swear, if you heard them…! You just wouldn’t believe the way they lived, the people.

S: It was hardship, alright. It was definite hardship. – Different thing again: when you were growing up, and you were travelling, did you have a place that you came back to, that you, like, lived in the winter, or whatever? Or were you always on the move?

We always kind of liked Dublin, and we always kind of likeded Cork. But then, all my dad’s people is from Kilkenny and Clonmel and stuff like that. All my mother’s people, then, is from Limerick, you know? And Ennis. So, we kind of never stood long enough around their side, you know? But it was always kind of, away.

S: [laughs] Right. Possibly a good idea!

You know, away from the two sides. So it was either Dublin, or Cork. Eventually we stayed in Cork. We’re years in Cork now! Twenty years in Cork now. We never left once.

S: Right. You never went travelling since?

No, cos all the family got married, and they all started moving out.

S: And is none of them travelling now? What about your brothers and sisters?

Oh, they all have their own – I’ve two brothers and a sister in Limerick, that’s married and settled down inLimerick. I’ve two sisters in Kilkenny. I’ve one other sister and brother in Clonmel. I’ve three in with my mother’s people, country, that’s Limerick, and I have two in Clonmel, my dad’s side, and in Kilkenny I’ve two as well. And I have what? one, two, three, four – four in Cork, then, that’s staying on with me dad and mam.

S: So your dad and mam are here in Cork along with you.

Yeah. And I’ve another sister in England.

S: When you were growing up, what kind of work did your parents mostly do? Or what kind of work did the Reillys mostly do?

When I was growing up, anyway, I always seen my dad, and he deals with horses. Do you know, going to fairs, and selling horses, or buying horses, whatever. And my uncle then, we used to stay with him, and my dad used to go off with him, used to do the pots, years ago, I was only a child, the tin pots and tin pans and things, he used to make all them. He’d go off selling them. But mostly horses he’d be dealing with.

S: Did he do any, like, markets?


S: Or chimneysweeping?


S: Or, I’m just trying to think of all the other things people do sometimes – secondhand clothes? Scrap?


S: Games at fairs or anything like that?


S: Did you know any families who did, like, games at fairs?

Oh, I did! I knew the families that did card games.

S: Would any of them be Reillys? What names…?

Oh, Jesus, I wouldn’t know the names – We used to love watching them, playing the different – three cards…

S: Yeah.

A load of them sells, and load of them does fortune-tellings, going to fairs and do fortune-tellings.

S: Did anyone in your family do that?


S: Just the horses and a bit of tinsmithing?

Small bit of tinsmithing. That’s years ago. And since that’s gone, like, he’s been dealing with the horses, going to fairs and selling horses and buying horses, and stuff like that.

S: And what about your mother’s people? Caseys?

My mother’s people? It would be much the same now as well, do you know? I don’t know what they did years ago, but today, now, they’re kind of dealing in horses as well. Sulkies. You know, selling?

S: They make sulkies, do they?


S: And do they race them?

Oh, they do, yeah! They races them. And hunting. They loves hunting as well, sure.

S: Do they get any money off that?

No, it’s just a bit of fun. And playing handball for fun, and that.

S: But the sulkies, there’s money in that.

Oh, yeah!

S: Good money, with the betting on it. Hmmm … So can you think of any families that – like, the Reillys and the Caseys seem to be very tight there, and there’s only two other families that come in in a very small way. One Connors, two Donoghues, and they’re two sisters, and they’re also first cousins, so in a way they’re still Caseys and Reillys, you know? Can you think of any families that your parents would have really been upset if you’d mixed with them?


S: No. There was nobody that they said – I mean, you’re saying that your mother was a very quiet kind of person, who didn’t want to talk bad about anybody.

No! She wouldn’t talk bad about nobody!

S: Well, there is some kids that I wouldn’t want my kids to mix with, do you know what I mean? And I would just say, well, you’re not to play with them.

They wouldn’t like to see us ending up with somebody, now, that would be an old junkie, or a winer, do you know?

S: Yes! Exactly. So were there any families that they felt could have been like that, that they wouldn’t like you to get close to?

[Too long pause]. No, not really, to tell you the truth, love. I can’t remember. But as I say, when they were rearing us up, they did rear us up not to get in there, you know what I mean?

S: How?

Like – you know – like, my brothers, now, used go around with this fellow years ago, he was very fond of the drugs, and very fond of – not drugs. Smoking hash, like, and drink. Do you know? And going off to have a good time, you know? And I remember my sister talking to him at the shop one time. You know? And I was with my sister.

S: Oh, right. And this would be a fellow your brothers would hang around with? Then your sister started to mix in?

No! My sister was just talking to him at the shops, cos we knew him, cos he used to go out with my brothers. So we just started talking with him. And yet my brother came along and said, “If I catch you talking to him again, I’ll break your jaw. Keep away from him! He’s no good for anybody.” You know?

S: So your brother even had the sense, even though he was hanging round with this person?

He knew him! He knew his way, and he knew what he was up to! He knew he was no good! He didn’t want any of his sisters to go down that road. That’s the only thing I can remember, anything. But for my family, now, the only thing I’d say my family would be kind of, wouldn’t want really, really mixing in with, or mix out with, would be, I’d say the [X]s.

S: That’s why, when you said [X], I went, “Wooa!” [laughs]

We’ve been reared up with some of the [X]s, and they were nice kind of people, like, you know what I mean? They were staying on the site for years with us.

S: You mustn’t have crossed them. [laughs]

And like, at the time that – we’ll say, then again, that time that we were stopped with them people for, it was quiet. They were nice and easy people. About two and three years down the line, then, we heard all the things that they done.

S: Was it the same – here’s the thing, now. Because I’ve been to [name of county] where [X] is a very big name, right? And I kind of get the impression, there’s so many [X]s – like McDonaghs, it’s a big name – that some of them are veryscary, and some of them are quite ordinary. So was it the same people that you had mixed with, that turned out to be doing scary things? Or was it different people?

No. See, there you go. You’re right.

S: Different people with the same name?

Just had the name of it.

S: But they do have a name! [laughs] Definitely!

See, when we were staying with them people, they were nice! Do you know? We’d no problems with them!

S: I must say, any [X]s I’ve met, have been just lovely. And I keep hearing…!

Then again, like, the Reillys – you come across some bad cases of Reillys, too. You come across some bad Caseys. Same as every other people, you know what I mean? It’s just, we never came across of them, thank God. And even if we did, we wouldn’t even go there. We wouldn’t even mix, and get in with them. We wouldn’t go there. We’d just leave them, walk and leave them do their own thing. There’s only one way: if they came to us, do you know? That’s the only way that we would get involved.

S: And that fellow that your brother was hanging out with, who was he?

He was … [Y].

S: A [Y]. But the problem was just with that one fellow. Was it with [Ys] in general? Because nobody here married a [Y]. Did you avoid [Y]s, or just that one fellow?

No, see, then again, I’ve cousins that’s [Y]s, as well.

S: Right.

My aunt is married to [Y].

S: Which one? She didn’t show up here. It’s one of your parents’ brothers or sisters?

No, she’s not there, no. My mam’s sister, again, is married to [Y]. But that boy – he wasn’t delated to us, but we knew him. We didn’t know him. The boys knew him, from going round with him, you know? Yet none of my brothers wanted us to go there, because they knew what would be wrong with him, you know what I mean? They knew he was a bit bad. You know, he was fond of his drink, and he was fond of his good time, and he was fond of this and that. And my brothers knew, like, if any of us got in there

S: Sure!

He’d be no good to none of us, you know? So he didn’t want us to be going there.

S: But they still hung out with him themselves! [laughs]

Yeah, but like, then again, they’re boys. And boys is a lot different than girls.

S: They sure are, yeah.

Like they say, a boy can walk away from anything, where a girl, a woman, has to be left there with… everything, you know?

S: Yeah, that’s true. When a man’s hat is on his head, his house is thatched.

That’s it, you see? So.

S: I guess that’s all at the moment. I’ll come back at some point later on and talk about it in a big group. But anyway, there’s yours, this is your life! [hands over full family tree]

I’ll take this so. Listen, thanks very much.

S: Thank you, Daughter.

That’s brilliant!

S: It’s pretty.

It’s very nice! No, I intend to come, tell my own family, your own breed, about it.

S: I think that the way it’s written out there it’s lovely, it’s so clear about how everyone – except the three of you are so different, you married completely out. Because I only put one colour for country people, it’s all black.

But then again you see, my kids could marry some of those kids.

S: Oh, of course they could! Of course they could. But that’s the interesting thing as the generations unfold, because you never know. I mean, here you are, you have a mixed marriage there, country and Traveller, and all the kids marry Travellers. Well, that I have, anyway, of your father’s side. I’ve none of your father’s brothers and sisters marrying country people.

But then, my dad was a half country man, and I married a country fellow again!

S: Exactly! Well, if you like, yeah. But that’s two generations on. Did any of your father’s brothers and sisters marry country people?

Me dad’s brothers and sisters?… No.

S: They all married Travellers. And did they all marry people that they were related to?

They did.

S: Exactly. I mean, your father married a first cousin, for starters, you know? So, there you are! If [name] is around, send her in!


S: Could you just remind me what your mother’s surname and your father’s surname are?

My mother was Margaret Casey, and my father was John Reilly.

S: Alright: Casey and Reilly. And remind me as well what language you speak at home?

Me, love?

S: Yeah. What do you call the language? When you don’t want country people to understand, what do you call -?


S: Okay. You live in Cork now. Have both sides of your family always lived in Cork?

No. My mother’s people are from Limerick. My father’s from Tipperary, Co. Tipperary.

S: And is that where you’d find most of the Caseys, on the one hand, and-

You’d find most of the Caseys in Limerick and you’d find most of the Reillys in Tipperary – Clonmel.

S: And when did they come down to Cork, then?

My father and mother came to Cork about nineteen, twenty years ago, and they’re here ever since.

S: And was there a reason that they came to Cork, or that they stopped in Cork?

No, they just were travelling around, came to Cork, and stayed in it.

S: And did either of them have family here, that they -?


S: And when you were growing up did you stay around Cork, or did you travel?

I was set fast for twenty years in Cork, we never travelled anywhere. When we were younger, then, we kind of moved from Dublin to – you know, travelled around the country, till we came to Cork.

S: What counties would you have travelled?

I remember when I was a child, we used to stay in Clonmel, Waterford, Dublin.


S: I was asking where you had travelled.

I’ve travelled in Waterford, Clonmel, Dublin, Limerick. That’s about it, I’d say. I’m in Cork ever since.

S: Okay. So if you take Limerick to Dublin kind of a sort of straight line, which is is pretty much, you didn’t go over that? You didn’t go to, say, Sligo? Mayo? Donegal?


S: Okay, So, the bottom half of the country. What kinds of work did your family do?

Me Daddy used to do horses, and – mostly horses, I’d say, and go to fairs and that, set off, buying and selling horse s.

S: Anything else? He didn’t buy and sell anything else at the fairs? Never did, I don’t know – ?

The markets?

S: Yeah.

He did years ago, when we were staying in Dublin, he used to go to the markets, and sell stuff. You know, all second-hand things.

S: Yeah.

But that’s years ago. I was only a child that time.

S: What about… scrap?

My brothers were dealing in scrap.

S: And what about – you know, at the fairs, sometimes people did games-


S: – and those sorts of things? Or music?


S: Tinsmithing?

No. Me grandfather was a tinsmith, alright.

S: Your grandfather was a tinsmith. Which side?

I suppose my mother’s.

S: Your mother’s father was, and your father’s father wasn’t? Is that what you’re saying?


S: Did you say you’d only one grandfather who was a tinsmith, not the two of them?

No, just one. It was my mother’s father.

S: What was your father’s father, by the way?

He was a horse dealer as well.

S: If you were to sum up your family in a few words, what would you say about them? I don’t mean personal stuff, now. But, like, what – who is your family? What way would you describe them?

Who are they?

S: Mmm!

What way? Ehm –

S: Well there’s some families where you’d say, oh, they’re all horse dealers, or, they do the markets, or, whatever.

I wouldn’t know. See, my Dad kind of deals in horses, he got it from his own father.

S: And what about his brothers? Is that what they all do, or is that just your dad?

It’s just me dad, really. Some of them, like, deals with horses. Me Uncle Tony, now, the Lord have mercy on him, he used to deal in horses, before he died. I don’t know if he done anything else, only the horses.

S: They were horse-dealing people.


S: Anything else?


S: Alright! Then I’ll leave you.